The following blog is written by Let Us Learn campaigner, Cynthia. Cynthia arrived in the UK when she was 9 years old and won a place to study International Business at university before realising she was not eligible for student finance. She is a member of the Let Us Learn core campaign team and here describes meeting to discuss the Let Us Learn response to the BIS student finance consultation. Please note that this is not the official Let Us Learn response.
On December 9th 2015 a special Let us Learn meeting was held to discuss our response to the BIS consultation. As a group we did not agree with many of the suggestions – we especially felt that the three year ‘ordinary residence’ rule should be abolished completely – yet it was important to take a realistic approach towards the consultation. Rather than simply disagreeing with everything in the consultation, we felt that we needed to make suggestions that would be clear for BIS and Student Finance England to implement and that they would be cost effective to put into practice. We were also keen to highlight what we felt were ‘unintended consequences’ of the suggestions. Here are my reflections on some of the discussion.
Rule 1: Do you agree that it is reasonable to introduce a requirement that students who are under 18 years old and who are not settled in the UK should have to demonstrate seven years’ continuous residence in the UK (including three years’ ordinary lawful residence immediately before the start of their course) in order to be eligible for student support?
We felt that it was reasonable to introduce this rule. However, we felt that there would not be many students who would actually be able to go to university age 17, so it may only be a very small number who meet this criteria anyway.
Rule 2: Do you agree that it is reasonable to introduce a requirement that students who arrived in the UK as children and are aged 18 to 24 years and who are not settled in the UK should have to demonstrate that they have spent at least half their life continuously resident in the UK (including three years’ ordinary lawful residence immediately before the start of their course) in order to be eligible for student support?
Although we felt that it was reasonable to introduce this rule, we felt there will be unintended consequences by having the 24 age limit. For instance, if an individual has lived in the UK since they were 9 years old, but was only granted leave to remain at the age of 22 (this is not uncommon, especially given Home Office delays), by the time they meet the ordinary lawful residence rule, they would already be over 24. This would mean that they would no longer be able to apply for student finance under this rule and would have to wait even longer to become eligible. Surely these people should be able to go to university now? We have made suggestions below that would remedy this problem.
Rule 3: Would you support a rule allowing those who are aged 25 or above and who are not settled in the UK to become eligible for student support if they have been continuously resident in the UK for at least 20 years (including three years’ ordinary lawful residence immediately before the start of their course)?
We took a stronger stance towards this rule. We felt this requirement was unreasonable, especially when you consider the example given above of the young person who did not get their status until they were 22. For that reason, as a collective we did not support this rule.
We discussed the following alternatives that we feel need to be added to the new rules:
- Secondary schooling
We felt a better way to measure if someone has ‘lived in the UK a long time’ would be for them to demonstrate that they have completed all of their secondary schooling in the UK, from Year 7. If someone has done this, they should qualify for student finance, whatever age they are when they come to apply.
- Exceptional circumstances
We felt there needs to be an exceptional circumstances allowance. For example, if a person met the three year ordinary residence criteria just a month or even a week after of the start of his/her course, this would mean that they would have to wait a whole extra year before they would be eligible for student finance. They would have to delay their education again, by a full year and there should be an allowance in the rules to make sure this does not happen.
Overall, the meeting was successful as we were all able to share our thoughts and opinions. I felt privileged to have been part of the group and to have contributed to the consultation. I feel that we can and have made a significant difference to the education system as a collective. But our journey does not end here and we still have more challenges to overcome.